Jay -- Film Review

BOTTOM LINE: The viciousness of television journalism narrated though not quite astutely.

Pusan International Film Festival
A Window on Asian Cinema

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"Jay" is a film within a film where delusion, illusion and theatrics weave imagery that is as provocative as it is terrifying.

Zooming on the modern-day evil of television journalism out to capture the best shot and stories -- often thrusting microphones and cameras right into grief -- Francis Xavier Pasion's movie exhibits awfully cruel manipulation and deceit. Although not quite for popcorn-munching, Coke-sipping crowds, it's not quite art house either, falling somewhere in between.

The movie often resembles a documentary, with Jay (Baron Geisler), a homosexual director of a television reality show, getting into the thick of a brutal murder of a Manila professor, also named Jay (R J Payawal) and also a homosexual. Was the dead Jay's sexual preference the reason for the television Jay's almost obsessive interest in the incident? This is never clear; what is clear is Jay's detached look at a tragedy of this magnitude, where a young man is killed and his family of mother and two younger siblings all but orphaned.

Jay lands in the town where the professor's family lives and breaks the terrible news. How? He switches on the television, which is beaming the murder story. Disbelief soon gives way to shock and despair, and it is not until Jay takes the family to the embalming room that the realization sets in, and the camera rolls to record the hysterical weeping and cursing that follows. Jay stands aside coldly instructing his cameraman. The utter horror of this sinks in as we begin to understand the inhuman selfishness of modern television journalism, where exclusivity and one-upmanship is all that counts.

But there are scenes that go beyond the realm of reality. When a part of the footage is destroyed, Jay asks the mother to re-enact a sequence, even going to the extent of placing another body in the morgue for her to weep again. But when he does a take asking the police to re-enact the arrest of the suspect, he escapes -- and is finally caught after a difficult chase. Would the police really allow this? Would a grieving mother actually agree to a re-take? Would the young daughter sing for the camera in a moment such as this? Are people so crazy about appearing on television?

Still, the movie is well-crafted and though not scripted intelligently enough touches upon a kind of journalism that thrives on sensationalism. Do viewers cherish images that play upon human anguish? Jay says yes.

Cast: Baron Geisler, R.J. Payawal, Coco Martin, Flor Salanga.
Director-screenwriter: Francis Xavier Pasion.
Producers: Francis Xavier Pasion, Ronald Mangubat.
Director of photography: Carlo Mendoza.
Music: Gian Gianan.
Costume designers: Cha Idea, Rowena Sanchez.
Production designer: Joy Puntawe.
Editors: Francis Xavier Pasion, Chuck Gutierrez, Kats Serraon.
No rating, 96 minutes.
Production: Cinemalaya.